Just after midnight on July 19, 1952, "seven pips appeared suddenly" on National Airport's control center radar in Washington, according to this unattributed cartoon depicting those UFO sightings. "There's one ... and there it goes!" a nearby airline pilot reportedly radioed.
(Photo courtesy of the National Archives)
When the USAF Was in the UFO Business
By Della M. Rios
WASHINGTON -- "Rumors about the saucer mystery
fly almost as fast as the strange sights themselves," pronounced
the narrator of a 1952 Paramount newsreel, commenting on a rash
of UFO sightings from New York to Washington.
He added ominously: "With this evidence, the mystery thickens."
And so it seemed.
A comic book narrative of the time came down on the side of believers.
"SAUCERS OVER WASHINGTON, D.C.," blared its bold black
headline. It dismissed the military's "glib" explanation
of radar blips seen that July by National Airport flight controllers.
Simply a case of temperature inversion or reflections of ground
objects, insisted the Air Force brass. But what about the pilot,
the cartoonist countered, who described "a bright light moving
faster, at times, than a shooting star"?
Well, what about it?
From 1947 to 1969, Americans accounted for 12,618 reports of unidentified
flying objects. It was up to investigators at Ohio's Wright-Patterson
Air Force Base to determine if extraterrestrial beings, in fact,
had descended from space to Earth.
This work was incendiary enough to be classified. But the government
bestowed a bureaucratic name just the same: "Project Blue Book."
It went on until 1969. That year, the United States Air Force declared
itself out of the UFO business, but not before concluding that 701
sightings remained "unidentified."
Not to worry, Wright-Patterson officials assured the public in a
1985 fact sheet:
"No UFO reported, investigated and evaluated by the Air Force
has ever given any indication of threat to our national security;
there has been no evidence submitted to or discovered by the Air
Force that sightings categorized as `unidentified' represent technological
developments or principles beyond the range of present-day scientific
knowledge; and there has been no evidence indicating that sightings
categorized as `unidentified' are extraterrestrial vehicles."
Just to be clear: Should anyone feel threatened by something he
or she sees, the Air Force advised, "contact a local law enforcement
And one last thing: "Periodically, it is erroneously stated
that the remains of extraterrestrial visitors are or have been stored
at Wright-Patterson AFB. There are not now nor ever have been, any
extraterrestrial visitors or equipment on Wright-Patterson Air Force
Did Project Blue Book really lead to such a disappointing end?
The unconvinced -- or the merely curious -- are welcome to see for
themselves. Blue Book's documents and photographs comprise 42 cubic
feet of declassified records -- numbering 2,000 pages per cubic
foot -- now housed in the Military Reference Branch of the National
Archives. They can be accessed through 94 rolls of 35 mm microfilm.
A glimpse inside the files finds a graphic charting coverage of
UFOs -- including in the popular magazines LOOK and LIFE -- against
subsequent spikes in sightings. There was a outbreak of them in
the summer of 1952. Even Harry S. Truman got involved. A July 26,
1952 memo out of Box 26 reveals that "the President had requested
Gen. Landry to find out the details of the sighting that had occurred
in Washington on Saturday night."
That 1952 newsreel, with its breathless narration, describes how
"across the river from New York City, a Jersey City volunteer
air-defense observer reports that not only has he spotted a flying
saucer in the nighttime sky over Manhattan, but that he's actually
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